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Fremont's Buckaroo Tavern: 72 years of colorful history going away


Posted on September 15, 2010 at 9:44 AM

JT just couldn’t get served. He’d catch the eye of the bartender, but the barkeep seemed to look right past him. He switched stools, he looked pleadingly at other patrons. Still nothing. So JT gave up and went to another part of the bar. Good thing, because who knows the proper etiquette of removing someone’s dog from a stool that you want.

So went my first introduction to Fremont stalwart the Buckaroo Tavern. It was a blind date that quickly turned to crush, and blossomed into a deep, yet open, relationship. The Buck is the closest bar to my apartment, and I was so happy to find this perfect neighborhood joint. I guess I talk about the place a lot because a few years ago a co-worker bought me a Buckaroo t-shirt ("Don't Pass the Buck). It wasn't my birthday. It's probably not smart to let my bosses know how many times I've been there, but it's more than once and fewer than 100. Maybe.

So I was more than crushed when I found out the Buck was closing. It follows the general script of other fallen dives: the property owner won't renew the bar owner's lease; a cult uproar ensues, including a "Save the Buckaroo" movement; eventually a trendier restaurant will take its place. There's talk of it re-opening a few blocks away in a new building, but who knows. Even though there's a precedent of this in Seattle, you never think it will happen to your bar.

It sounds like a joke: a contractor, a chocolate factory worker and a nuclear physicist walk into a bar. But that's who you find at the Buck. The 72-year-old place probably still looks the same as it did 40 years ago. A giant longhorn over the bar greets you, counter-culture bumper stickers adorn the walls, and rickety booths with ancient carvings offer stiff comfort. The owner, however, does roll out the red carpet; Donna Morey is only the fourth person to have the place since the Buck opened in 1938. She and her husband Keith (who died in 2007) have always kept the place open every day of the year and on Thanksgiving and Christmas would cook a turkey for the patrons who didn't have area family; I've been one of those holiday orphans. Last Christmas I stopped by after work and still found hot dishes out at 10pm.

Last weekend as the Huskies played on a TV above the bar, the woman sitting next to me asked Donna if she would be making any more Buckaroo lighters.

"No," she said, "but let me check in the seat cushions of my car."

A few minutes later, she returned with a Buckaroo-emblazoned lighter.

Later, as she was leaving, I relayed my condolences for the demise of the Buck and thanked her for keeping the place open as long as she did.

She demurred, "You people drove the ship. All I did was sit at the helm and steer a little."

Lighter Woman started to cry.